Republics of the Soviet Union

  (Redirected from Union republic)

The Republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Union Republics (Russian: Сою́зные Респу́блики, tr. Soyúznye Respúbliki) were ethnically based administrative units of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).[1] The Soviet Union was created by the treaty between the soviet socialist republics of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and the Transcaucasian Federation, by which they became its constituent republics. For most of its history, the USSR was a highly centralized state despite its nominal structure as a federation of republics; the decentralization reforms during the era of Perestroika ("Restructuring") and Glasnost ("Openness") conducted by Mikhail Gorbachev are cited as one of the factors which led to the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

Republics of the USSR
Soviet Union Administrative Divisions 1989.jpg
CategoryFederated state
Location Soviet Union
Created byTreaty on the Creation of the USSR
  • 30 December 1922
Abolished by
  • 6 September 1991
  • 26 December 1991
Number15 (as of 1989)
PopulationsSmallest: 1,565,662 (Estonian SSR)
Largest: 147,386,000 (Russian SFSR)
AreasSmallest: 29,800 km2 (11,500 sq mi) (Armenia)
Largest: 17,075,400 km2 (6,592,800 sq mi) (Russian SFSR)

There were two different types of republics in the Soviet Union: the larger union republics, representing the main ethnic groups of the Union and with the constitutional right to secede from it, and the smaller autonomous republics, located within the union republics and representing ethnic minorities.

The Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic, a relic of the Soviet-Finnish War, became the only union republic to be deprived of its status in 1956. The decision to downgrade Karelia to an autonomous republic within the RSFSR was made unilaterally by the central government without consulting its population.


According to Article 76 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution, a Union Republic was a sovereign Soviet socialist state that had united with other Soviet Republics in the USSR. Article 81 of the Constitution stated that "the sovereign rights of Union Republics shall be safeguarded by the USSR".[2]

In the final decades of its existence, the Soviet Union officially consisted of fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs). All of them, with the exception of the Russian Federation (until 1990), had their own local party chapters of the All-Union Communist Party.

Outside the territory of the Russian Federation, the republics were constituted mostly in lands that had formerly belonged to the Russian Empire and had been acquired by it between the 1700 Great Northern War and the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.

In 1944, amendments to the All-Union Constitution allowed for separate branches of the Red Army for each Soviet Republic. They also allowed for Republic-level commissariats for foreign affairs and defense, allowing them to be recognized as de jure independent states in international law. This allowed for two Soviet Republics, Ukraine and Byelorussia, (as well as the USSR as a whole) to join the United Nations General Assembly as founding members in 1945.[3][4][5]

All of the former Republics of the Union are now independent countries, with ten of them (all except the Baltic states, Georgia and Ukraine) being very loosely organized under the heading of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Baltic states assert that their incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940 (as the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian SSRs) under the provisions of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was illegal, and that they therefore remained independent countries under Soviet occupation.[6][7] Their position is supported by the European Union,[8] the European Court of Human Rights,[9] the United Nations Human Rights Council[10] and the United States.[11] In contrast, the Russian government and state officials maintain that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was legitimate.[12]

Constitutionally, the Soviet Union was a federation. In accordance with provisions present in the Constitution (versions adopted in 1924, 1936 and 1977), each republic retained the right to secede from the USSR. Throughout the Cold War, this right was widely considered to be meaningless; however, the corresponding Article 72 of the 1977 Constitution was used in December 1991 to effectively dissolve the Soviet Union, when Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus seceded from the Union.

In practice, the USSR was a highly centralised entity from its creation in 1922 until the mid-1980s when political forces unleashed by reforms undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev resulted in the loosening of central control and its ultimate dissolution. Under the constitution adopted in 1936 and modified along the way until October 1977, the political foundation of the Soviet Union was formed by the Soviets (Councils) of People's Deputies. These existed at all levels of the administrative hierarchy, with the Soviet Union as a whole under the nominal control of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, located in Moscow within the Russian SFSR.

Along with the state administrative hierarchy, there existed a parallel structure of party organizations, which allowed the Politburo to exercise large amounts of control over the republics. State administrative organs took direction from the parallel party organs, and appointments of all party and state officials required approval of the central organs of the party.

Each republic had its own unique set of state symbols: a flag, a coat of arms, and, with the exception of Russia until 1990, an anthem. Every republic of the Soviet Union also was awarded with the Order of Lenin.

Union Republics of the Soviet UnionEdit

Map of the Union Republics from 1956 to 1991, as numbered by the Soviet Constitution

The number of the union republics of the USSR varied from 4 to 16. From 1956 until its dissolution in 1991, the Soviet Union consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics. Rather than listing the republics in alphabetical order, the republics were listed in constitutional order, which, particularly by the last decades of the Soviet Union, did not correspond to order either by population or economic power.

Emblem Name Flag Capital Official languages Joined Sovereignty /
Population (1989) Pop.
Area (km2) (1991) Area
Post-Soviet and de facto states No.
  Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic   Yerevan Armenian, Russian 1922 August 23, 1990
September 21, 1991
3,287,700 1.15 29,800 0.13   Armenia 13
  Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic   Baku Azerbaijani, Russian 1922 September 23, 1989
August 30, 1991
7,037,900 2.45 86,600 0.39   Azerbaijan
  Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic   Minsk Byelorussian, Russian 1922 July 27, 1990
December 10, 1991
10,151,806 3.54 207,600 0.93   Belarus 3
  Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic[a]   Tallinn Estonian, Russian 1940 November 16, 1988
August 20, 1991
1,565,662 0.55 45,226 0.20   Estonia 15
  Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic   Tbilisi Georgian, Russian 1922 November 18, 1989
April 9, 1991
5,400,841 1.88 69,700 0.31   Georgia
  South Ossetia
  Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic   Alma-Ata Kazakh, Russian 1936 October 25, 1990
December 16, 1991
16,711,900 5.83 2,717,300 12.24   Kazakhstan 5
  Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic   Frunze Kirghiz, Russian 1936 December 15, 1990
August 31, 1991
4,257,800 1.48 198,500 0.89   Kyrgyzstan 11
  Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic[a]   Riga Latvian, Russian 1940 July 28, 1989
May 4, 1990
2,666,567 0.93 64,589 0.29   Latvia 10
  Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic[a]   Vilnius Lithuanian, Russian 1940 May 18, 1989
March 11, 1990
3,689,779 1.29 65,200 0.29   Lithuania 8
  Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic   Kishinev Moldavian, Russian 1940 June 23, 1990
August 27, 1991
4,337,600 1.51 33,843 0.15   Moldova
  Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic   Moscow Russian 1922 June 12, 1990
December 12, 1991
147,386,000 51.40 17,075,400 76.62   Russia 1
  Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic   Dushanbe Tajik,
1929 August 24, 1990
September 9, 1991
5,112,000 1.78 143,100 0.64   Tajikistan 12
  Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic   Ashkhabad Turkmen, Russian 1924 August 27, 1990
October 27, 1991
3,522,700 1.23 488,100 2.19   Turkmenistan 14
  Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic   Kyiv Ukrainian, Russian 1922 July 16, 1990
August 24, 1991
51,706,746 18.03 603,700 2.71   Ukraine
  Donetsk PR
  Luhansk PR
  Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic   Tashkent Uzbek,
1924 June 20, 1990
August 31, 1991
19,906,000 6.94 447,400 2.01   Uzbekistan 4

Temporal Union Republics of the Soviet UnionEdit

Emblem Name Flag Capital Titular nationality Years of membership Population Area (km2) Soviet successor
  Bukharan People's Soviet Republic   Bukhara Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens 1920–1925 2,000,000 182,193   Uzbek SSR
  Tajik SSR
  Turkmen SSR
  Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic   Petrozavodsk Karelians, Finns 1940–1956 651,300
172,400   Russian SFSR
  Khorezm People's Soviet Republic   Khiva Uzbeks, Turkmens 1920–1925 800,000 62,200   Turkmen SSR
  Uzbek SSR
  Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic   Tiflis Azeris, Armenians, Georgians 1922–1936 5,861,600
186,100   Armenian SSR
  Azerbaijan SSR
  Georgian SSR

Republics not recognized by the Soviet UnionEdit

Emblem Name Flag Capital Official languages Independence from Moldavian SSR declared Independence from USSR declared Population Area (km2) Post-Soviet states
  Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic   Tiraspol Russian, Ukrainian, Moldovan 2 September 1990 25 August 1991 680,000

Other non-union Soviet republicsEdit

Emblem Name Flag Capital Created Defunct Successor states Modern states
  Bavarian Soviet Republic   Munich 1919   Weimar Republic   Germany
  Bremen Soviet Republic   Bremen 1919   Weimar Republic   Germany
  Chinese Soviet Republic   Ruijin
1931 1937   China   People's Republic of China
  Republic of China (disputed)
Commune of the Working People of Estonia   Narva
1918 1919   Estonia
  Far Eastern Republic   Verkhneudinsk
1920 1922   Russian SFSR   Russia
Galician Soviet Socialist Republic   Ternopil 1920   Polish Republic   Ukraine
  Hungarian Soviet Republic   Budapest 1919   Hungarian Republic   Hungary
  Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic   Riga
1918 1920   Latvia
  Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic   Vilnius 1918 1919   Litbel   Lithuania
Lithuanian–Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic   Vilnius
1919   Lithuania
  Polish Republic
  Byelorussian SSR
Limerick Soviet Limerick 1919   United Kingdom   Ireland
Mughan Soviet Republic   Lankaran 1919   Azerbaijan DR   Azerbaijan
  Odessa Soviet Republic   Odessa 1918   Ukrainian PR   Ukraine
Persian Socialist Soviet Republic   Rasht 1920 1921   Qajar Persia   Iran
  Slovak Soviet Republic   Prešov 1919   Czechoslovak Republic   Slovakia

The Turkestan Soviet Federative Republic was proclaimed in 1918 but did not survive to the founding of the USSR, becoming the short-lived Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the RSFSR. The Crimean Soviet Socialist Republic (Soviet Socialist Republic of Taurida) was also proclaimed in 1918, but did not become a union republic and was made into an autonomous republic of the RSFSR, although the Crimean Tatars had a relative majority until the 1930s or 1940s according to censuses. When the Tuvan People's Republic joined the Soviet Union in 1944, it did not become a union republic, and was instead established as an autonomous republic of the RSFSR.

The leader of the People's Republic of Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov, suggested in the early 1960s that the country should become a union republic, but the offer was rejected.[16][17][18] During the Soviet–Afghan War, the Soviet Union proposed to annex Northern Afghanistan as its 16th union republic in what was to become the Afghan Soviet Socialist Republic.[19]

Unrealized Soviet statesEdit

Workers' communesEdit

Autonomous Republics of the Soviet UnionEdit

Several of the Union Republics themselves, most notably Russia, were further subdivided into Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics (ASSRs). Though administratively part of their respective Union Republics, ASSRs were also established based on ethnic/cultural lines.

Emblem Name Flag Years of membership Capital Official languages Area (km2) Soviet Socialist Republic Post-Soviet subjects
  Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1931–1992 Sukhumi Abkhazian, Georgian, Russian 8,600   Georgian SSR   Abkhazia
  Adjar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1921–1990 Batumi Georgian, Russian 2,880   Georgian SSR   Adjara
  Bashkir Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1919–1991 Ufa Bashkir, Russian 143,600   Russian SFSR   Bashkortostan
  Buryat Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1923–1990 Ulan-Ude Buryat, Russian 69,857   Russian SFSR   Buryatia
  Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1936–1944
Grozny Chechen, Ingush, Russian 19,300   Russian SFSR   Chechnya
  Chuvash Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1925–1992 Cheboksary Chuvash, Russian 18,300   Russian SFSR   Chuvashia
  Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1921–1991 Makhachkala Aghul, Avar, Azerbaijani, Chechen, Dargwa, Kumyk, Lezgian, Lak, Nogai, Rutul, Tabasaran, Tat, Tsakhur, Russian 50,300   Russian SFSR   Dagestan
Gorno-Altai Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic[note 1] 1990–1991 Gorno-Altaysk Altai, Russian[citation needed] 92,600   Russian SFSR   Altai Republic
  Kabardino-Balkarian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1936–1944


Nalchik Kabardian, Karachay-Balkar, Russian 12,500   Russian SFSR   Kabardino-Balkaria
  Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1935–1943


Elista Kalmyk Oirat, Russian 76,100   Russian SFSR   Kalmykia
  Karakalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1932–1991 Nukus Karakalpak (1956-1980s), Russian 165,000   Uzbek SSR   Karakalpakstan
  Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1923–1940
Petrozavodsk Finnish (1956-1980s), Russian 147,000   Russian SFSR   Karelia
  Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1936–1990 Syktyvkar Komi, Russian 415,900   Russian SFSR   Komi Republic
  Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1936–1990 Yoshkar-Ola Mari (Meadow and Hill variants), Russian 23,200   Russian SFSR   Mari El
  Mordovian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1934–1990 Saransk Erzya, Moksha, Russian 26,200   Russian SFSR   Mordovia
  Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1921–1990 Nakhichevan Azerbaijani, Armenian, Russian 5,500   Azerbaijan SSR   Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic
  North Ossetian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1936–1993 Ordzhonikidze Ossetian, Russian 8,000   Russian SFSR   North Ossetia-Alania
  Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1920–1990 Kazan Tatar, Russian 68,000   Russian SFSR   Tatarstan
  Tuvan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1961–1992 Kyzyl Tuvan, Russian 170,500   Russian SFSR   Tuva
  Udmurt Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1934–1990 Izhevsk Udmurt, Russian 42,100   Russian SFSR   Udmurtia
  Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   1922–1991 Yakutsk Yakut, Russian 3,083,523   Russian SFSR   Sakha Republic

Former Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet UnionEdit

Emblem Name Flag Capital Titular nationality Years of membership Population Area (km2) Soviet Socialist Republic Post-Soviet states
  Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   Simferopol Crimean Tatars
26,860   Russian SFSR
  Ukrainian SSR
  Russia (de facto since 2014)
Kabardin Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   Nalchik Kabardians 1944–1957 420,115
12,470   Russian SFSR   Russia
  Kirghiz Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic (1920–25)   Alma-Ata Kazakhs 1920–1925 6,503,000
2,960,000   Russian SFSR   Kazakhstan
  Kazakh Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic   1925–1936
Kirghiz Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic (1926–36)   Frunze Kyrgyz 1926–1936 993,000
196,129   Russian SFSR   Kyrgyzstan
  Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   Tiraspol Moldovans 1924–1940 599,150
8,288   Ukrainian SSR   Transnistria (de facto)
  Moldova (de jure)
  Mountain Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   Vladikavkaz Balkars, Chechens, Ingushes, Kabardians, Karachays, Ossetians, Terek Cossacks 1921–1924 1,286,000
74,000   Russian SFSR   Russia
  Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   Dushanbe Tajiks 1924–1929 740,000
  Uzbek SSR   Tajikistan
  Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   Tashkent Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Turkmens 1918–1924 5,221,963
  Russian SFSR   Kazakhstan
  Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic   Engels Soviet Germans 1923–1941 606,532
27,400   Russian SFSR   Russia

Dissolution of the Soviet UnionEdit

Country emblems of the Union republics, before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Note that the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (fifth in the second row) no longer exists as a political entity of any kind, and the emblem is unofficial.

Starting in the late 1980s, under the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet government undertook a program of political reforms (glasnost and perestroika) intended to liberalise and revitalise the Union. These measures, however, had a number of unintended political and social effects. Political liberalisation allowed the governments of the union republics to openly invoke the principles of democracy and nationalism to gain legitimacy. In addition, the loosening of political restrictions led to fractures within the Communist Party which resulted in a reduced ability to govern the Union effectively. The rise of nationalist and right-wing movements, notably led by Boris Yeltsin in Russia, in the previously homogeneous political system undermined the Union's foundations. With the central role of the Communist Party removed from the constitution, the Party lost its control over the State machinery and was banned from operating after an attempted coup d'état.

Throughout this period of turmoil, the Soviet government attempted to find a new structure that would reflect the increased authority of the republics. Some autonomous republics, like Tatarstan, Checheno-Ingushetia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Transnistria, Gagauzia sought the union statute in the New Union Treaty. Efforts to found a Union of Sovereign States, however, proved unsuccessful and the republics began to secede from the Union. By 6 September 1991, the Soviet Union's State Council recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania bringing the number of union republics down to 12. On 8 December 1991, the remaining leaders of the republics signed the Belavezha Accords which agreed that the USSR would be dissolved and replaced with a Commonwealth of Independent States namely USSR or Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics. On 25th December, President Gorbachev announced his resignation and turned all executive powers over to Yeltsin. The next day the Council of Republics voted to dissolve the Union. Since then, the republics have been governed independently with some reconstituting themselves as liberal parliamentary republics and others, particularly in Central Asia, devolving into highly autocratic states under the leadership of the old Party elite.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c The annexation of the Baltic republics in 1940 is considered an illegal occupation by the current Baltic governments and by a number of foreign countries.[6][9][10][11][13][14][15] The Soviet Union considered the initial annexation legal, but officially recognized their independence on September 6, 1991, three months prior to its final dissolution
  1. ^ Known as Oyrot Autonomous Oblast in 1922-1948 and Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast in 1948-1990.


  1. ^ Hough, Jerry F (1997). Democratization and revolution in the USSR, 1985-1991. Brookings Institution Press. p. 214. ISBN 0-8157-3749-1.
  2. ^ Federalism and the Dictatorship of Power in Russia By Mikhail Stoliarov. Taylor & Francis. 2014. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-415-30153-4. Retrieved 2014-02-18.
  3. ^ "Walter Duranty Explains Changes In Soviet Constitution". Miami News. 1944-02-06. Retrieved 2014-02-18.
  4. ^ "League of Nations Timeline - Chronology 1944". Retrieved 2014-02-18.
  5. ^ "United Nations - Founding Members". Retrieved 2014-02-18.
  6. ^ a b "The Occupation of Latvia at Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia".
  7. ^ "Estonia says Soviet occupation justifies it staying away from Moscow celebrations". Pravda.Ru. 3 May 2005. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007.
  8. ^ Motion for a resolution on the Situation in Estonia by the EU
  9. ^ a b European Court of Human Rights cases on Occupation of Baltic States
  10. ^ a b "UNITED NATIONS Human Rights Council Report". Retrieved 2014-02-18.
  11. ^ a b "U.S.-Baltic Relations: Celebrating 85 Years of Friendship" (PDF). U.S. Department of State. 14 June 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  12. ^ Russia denies Baltic 'occupation' by BBC News
  13. ^ European parliament: Resolution on the situation in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (No C 42/78) (1983). Official Journal of the European Communities. European Parliament.
  14. ^ Aust, Anthony (2005). Handbook of International Law. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-53034-7.
  15. ^ Ziemele, Ineta (2005). State Continuity and Nationality: The Baltic States and Russia. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 90-04-14295-9.
  16. ^ Elster, Jon (1996). The roundtable talks and the breakdown of communism. University of Chicago Press. p. 179. ISBN 0-226-20628-9.
  17. ^ Held, Joseph (1994). Dictionary of East European history since 1945. Greenwood Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-313-26519-4.
  18. ^ Gökay, Bülent (2001). Eastern Europe since 1970. Longman. p. 19. ISBN 0-582-32858-6.
  19. ^ Soviets may be poised to annex the Afghan North - Chicago Tribune. August 19, 1984. Retrieved on December 10, 2016. "Miraki said then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev urged Afghan President Babrak Karmal to win Afghan Communist Party approval for Moscow's annexation of eight northern provinces and their formation into the 16th Soviet republic, the Socialist Republic of Afghanistan. The defector said Brezhnev envisioned the southern half of the country as a powerless, Pa-than-speaking buffer with U.S.-backed Pakistan."

Further readingEdit